Yesterday we made our first foray into the world of Skype. We Skyped the Ms. Linney and the Kindergarten girls in the Excel Academy in Washington D.C. and it was an enjoyable, worthwhile experience. Having said that, it was not without its challenges.
I connected with Ms. Linney through Twitter several weeks ago and arranged a time to suit us both for Skyping. (Skype offer a facility for connecting teachers with one another but I have not used the service yet myself.) We had a test Skype call earlier in the week to ensure everything was working properly and also discussed the questions the children might ask each other.
Prepping the classroom for the Skype session meant finding a webcam (at the back of the junk press at home) and a mic (a less-than-ideal desktop mic from the school’s computer supplies) and then seating the children in a layout that would allow them all to be visible when the webcam was switched on.
We also needed to prepare the questions we wanted to ask, as well as our answers to their questions, to ensure we wouldn’t have any uncomfortable silences! Still, logistically, it was a struggle. Our desktop microphone is not very sensitive and this meant that to be heard, the children needed to stand right in front of the mic with their mouths an inch from the it. Any time a child wanted to ask or answer a question, they had to come up to the mic, speak and then return to their seats.
Ms. Linney at the Excel Academy had a wireless microphone that she was able to pass around amongst the children in her class, but the sound quality was muffled and we found most of what the children said quite difficult to decipher – meaning that the children in my class often needed me to repeat what had been said to understand.
We also lost the connection at one point in the session and the call was dropped. Luckily, we were able to reestablish the link within a minute so the momentum was not lost. But despite the challenges, the Skype session was a worthwhile learning experience.
What We Learned:
During our conversation with the girls at Excel Academy, we learned about several differences between our two schools: we established that in America it was only 8.15, while here in Dublin it was 1.15 – almost home time. We found out that the girls wouldn’t finish school until 3.30 their time; that they have a much longer day than us. We also discussed the weather, our ages, our uniforms, the fact that their school is single-sex, and what class the children are in. In fact, when Sofia came to the microphone to ask the girls what class they were in, she decided to say ‘grade’ instead, as they had already asked us what ‘grade’ we were in, and she knew they didn’t usually use the word ‘class’.
But Most Importantly:
The most valuable aspect of our Skype date was how it brought the reality of the outside world into our classroom. This is something I have discussed in an earlier post about Twitter – the capability of modern technology to take the content of a lesson and make it tangible, identifiable, relevant and FUN!
Here’s a video we took of the Event – warts and all!
…and Part 2:
What I Learned (WWW/EBI)
- Involving all of the children in a question helped to keep them engaged – e.g. hands up everybody who is five, hands up everybody who is six.
- Listening to multiple responses from the other class led to some children becoming distracted/ antsy (particularly with our audio difficulties) – maybe best to keep questions and answers as short and snappy as possible to hold all children’s attention
- While we had planned questions to ask them, towards the end of the session some of our class were putting their hands up to ask their own questions – I will try to allow time for this next time